mercredi 8 mai 2013

The Fascinating Life of Japan's Nine-Fingered Geisha

Geisha Teruha as a teenager
Teruha as a 14-year-old maiko called Chiyoha

The lives of geishas are wrapped in mystery. Here at EG, we’ve explored their world through incredible animated stereoviews and vintage postcards. Now, we take a more intimate look at one of the most celebrated, scandalous and enigmatic geishas of them all: Teruha. For reasons we will soon discover, Teruha is also known as “The Nine-Fingered Geisha.”

Teruha the geisha leaning on chair wearing a flowery kimono
Teruha poses in a chrysanthemum-decorated kimono.

In the golden age of the geisha, the Meiji period (September 1868 to July 1912), geishas were the equivalent of today’s celebrities, models and actresses. Desired by men and envied by women for their lifestyle and fashions, they captivated all levels of society, icons of both physical beauty and Japanese culture.


Teruha the geisha sitting on the floor with a book
Teruha taught herself how to read and write and authored many books.

While the wealthy could afford their company and performances, the less privileged had to make do with popular postcards featuring geishas in a variety of costumes and poses. Many of these postcards, like those shown here, featured the famous (and sometimes infamous) Teruha.


Teruha the geisha standing with a book
Teruha wrote poetry as well.

Born in Osaka in 1896, Teruha’s original name was Tatsuko Takaoka. Like most geishas, Teruha joined the secretive world at the tender age of 12. She was an illegitimate daughter, and her father sold her to the profession. As a maiko (a trainee geisha), Teruha was known as Chiyoha. In 1911, she moved to Tokyo and worked at Seika, which was considered East Japan’s most prestigious geisha house. After just two months of service, she took on the name Teruha, which translates as “shining leaf,” and became a fully-fledged geisha.


Teruha the geisha reaching for a fan
Teruha keeps her sleeve out of the way while she reaches for a fan.

Teruha’s early life as a maiko was traumatic. After first being sold by her father, she was then offered to the highest bidder to be deflowered when she was only 13 years old. In those days, wealthy patrons could pay to take the virginity of a young maiko in a ritual known as mizuage. In this case, the chairman of the Osaka Stock Exchange paid for Teruha’s. Unsurprisingly, it was a distressing event that left a lasting impression on Teruha, who later said, “Unconsciously, I branded myself with an impurity that could never be washed away."


Teruha the geisha with a doll and a bunch of flowers
The doll is a disturbing reminder that Teruha was little more than a child during her early geisha career.

The teenage Teruha then developed a crush on an actor named Ichikawa. Moreover, Ichikawa took full advantage of the infatuation, and the two began a brief affair. At the time, Teruha was engaged to two other men and was still only 13 years old. One of Teruha’s fiancés was a successful and handsome businessman named Sobe Otomine. Otomine would later become the reason for Teruha’s missing-digit nickname.


Teruha the geisha looking at a bunch of flowers
Gazing at a group of flowers

Teruha’s fling with Ichikawa soon ended and, heartbroken, she found comfort in her fiancé, Otomine. As the story goes, Otomine had left his wife to marry the young maiko, and the pair were soon besotted with each other. Sadly, it was not to last. During a trip to the spa city of Beppu, Otomine discovered a photograph of Teruha’s first love, Ichikawa, in her mirror case. Suffice to say, he did not react well, and the engagement was broken off.


Geisha Teruha with a chrysanthemum
Posing with a flower draped over her shoulders

Although she couldn’t understand Otomine’s anger at something she felt was natural – that is, keeping a souvenir of her first love – Teruha was nevertheless distraught that her fiancé had left her. Wondering how she could prove her love and win him back, Teruha hit upon the idea of performing the painful ritual of yubitsume, which involved cutting off part of her little finger.


Teruha the geisha wearing a black kimono
One of the few photos in which Teruha is looking at the camera

The squeamish may want to skip this section, as it details exactly how Teruha mutilated her hand. First, she tied the string of a samisen (a type of musical instrument) around her little finger. Then, in her own words, “I held the razor the other way around using the four fingers of my left hand, and turned the cutting edge to the little finger. I then covered my left hand with a handkerchief, and brought it down hard on the table – again, and again, and again,” until the severed tip fell off. She then presented it to Otomine, whose reaction is not recorded.


Teruha the nine-fingered geisha with bandaged finger
Notice the bandaged little finger on Teruha's left hand.

Teruha’s act of contrition and devotion did not win her any admiration from her fellow maikos. She was known as “The Maiko Without a Little Finger,” and gossip about the 14-year-old Teruha and her affairs drove her from Osaka to Tokyo – where envious contemporaries later referred to her as “The Nine-Fingered Geisha.” In Tokyo, she was reunited with Otomine for a short while but did not stay with him. Teruha’s life then became a series of encounters with wealthy and powerful men until, at the age of 22, she married her first husband.


Teruha the geisha kneeling on floor drinking tea
Teruha kneels with a teacup.

After their wedding, Teruha and her stockbroker (and rampantly philandering) husband moved to the US. They traveled all around the country, and on their travels Teruha met her rumored future lover Sessue Hayakawa, who was Hollywood’s first Japanese American film star. In New York, Teruha also had a fling with a woman known only as Hildegard. The relationship lasted for most of the period until Teruha and her husband returned to Japan.


Teruha the geisha with a woman
Teruha with a woman thought to be Hildegard

Back in Japan, Teruha’s marriage remained troubled. She soon returned to the US and then traveled on to London. There, she again met movie star Sessue Hayakawa. There are no definitive records to say that Teruha and Hayakawa had an affair, but what is known is that Teruha left London for Paris, where she gave birth to her only child, a daughter. Unfortunately, what happened to the baby is unknown.

Teruha the nine-fingered geisha adjusting her hair
Teruha adjusts her hair.

After that, Teruha returned to Japan and once again became a geisha. Eventually, she married her second husband, a medical professor. Yet no matter how hard she tried, domestic life was not for her, and after the marriage collapsed, Teruha returned to a life of turbulent love affairs. No longer able to work as a geisha, Teruha ran her own bar and worked as an actress, model, published author and poet.


Teruha the geisha writing in a notebook
Teruha was taken to court in an attempt to stop her writing her revealing memoirs; she won the case.

Finally, at the age of 39, having tried practically everything the world has to offer, Teruha shaved off her beautiful hair and became a Buddhist monk at the all-female Gio-Ji Temple in Kyoto. She changed her name to Chi syo, meaning “clever sunshine,” and eventually became head priest of the temple. She was reportedly very popular and spoke openly about what she referred to as her “checkered life.” in 1995, Teruha passed away at the temple at the age of 99. She remains one of Japan’s most well known geishas of all time.


Teruha the nine-fingered geisha wearing a veil
Teruha in a veil

Teruha’s life had all the hallmarks of a great story: tragedy, romance, scandal and redemption. It’s no wonder, then, that the narrative has been recounted in plays and television dramas in Japan. We thank Okinawa Soba for providing us with the photographs and information to tell the story of this incredible woman’s varied and unusual life.




Source ; http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com

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